Choose your seat with care: a plea to the commuters of London

This isn’t so much a blog as a plea to the commuters of London. I’ve been travelling to work on trains for many years and one bit of commuter behaviour has always puzzled me. Actually, scratch that: it hasn’t puzzled me, it’s annoyed the hell out of me.

First, let me set the scene. You are the first person to get on the train. You choose a likely looking bank of completely empty seats and you sit down. You go about your business, settling down for the journey, legs outstretched to make the most of the space before the train gets properly packed about halfway into the journey to London. So far, so good.

Now, let me just make one point very clear here. At this point *all* the other seats in this bank of seating are empty. There are also a multitude of other empty seats in the carriage. In short, there are plenty of available options should someone else get onto the train. There is, to put it bluntly, a plethora of seating options.

So, can someone please explain to me why there is always some oafish twonk who decides to get on the train and sit *directly* opposite you, legs also stretched out as if they’d been planning some form of bizarre leg-jousting contest for the entirety of their walk to the station? They could have sat on a seat just one place further along and this problem of tangled feet wouldn’t have occurred. We’d both be comfortable, we’d both have leg room and there would be no jostling of shoes to try and underline who’s claiming ownership of those few square centimetres of train floor.

I can’t for the life of me understand these people. Of course we both know at some point in the forthcoming journey that we’ll be squashed in tighter than pigs on their way to slaughter – such is the lot of the London commuter in rush hour on a train system that’s clearly creaking at the seams. But why would you actively choose to squish yourself into a corner with your fellow passenger when you don’t have to? Why start a game of ‘leg hockey’ when you could choose a few minutes of comfort?

It’s either a) a complete unawareness of how annoying this is, b) sheer bloody-mindedness or c) a weird foot-battling fetish. Sometimes it’s hard to decide which. I have a feeling these are the same pseudo-agoraphobics who will choose to run on the treadmill directly next to you at the gym when all the other machines are completely free. Or the type who will come and sit in the adjacent knackered plastic chair to you in the cold, deathly silence of a doctor’s waiting room. And then cough persistently for the next ten minutes.

Are they lonely, do you think? Do they, maybe, think you’re lonely? Do they feel they’re doing you a favour by not choosing a seat that’s a suitable distance away from you? Is this a rare display of true, social, human solidarity? To be honest, I don’t think so.

I’d probably plump for option a) in most situations as a way of explaining this behaviour: they aren’t even aware they’re doing it. In much the same way that most commuters aren’t aware how loud and irritating their iPod sounds through the crappy, cheapo, white headphones Apple still insist on providing with their products (a tip for anyone who actually wants to hear the bass in your music: buy some decent, in-ear headphones or proper cans. You’ll hear the proper depth of your music, however crud it may be, and the rest of the world won’t be subjected to the tinny nonsense that emanates from your direction). And also in much the same way that people don’t realise the murderous thoughts they illicit by noisily flicking through the pages of a free newspaper, turning each page without even looking at it and then tossing the ragged paper onto the seat next to them.

So, my plea is this: Londoners, commuters, home counties travellers – when you get on a train choose a seat that isn’t making life that little bit more uncomfortable for your fellow traveller. If there’s space, use it. If you don’t have to sit directly opposite someone, don’t. Think, for a second, about making the most of the soon-to-disappear space you have at your disposal.

And if you do decide to sit opposite me with your legs stretched right out then prepare yourself for a serious game of leg hockey!


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